Transcript: Chris Van Hollen on SOTU

From CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley

Guest: Chris Van Hollen

November 7, 2010

CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, the man who led the Democratic campaign effort in the House, Congressman Chris Van Hollen. And we both admit that rough week is a bit of an understatement for you at this point.

VAN HOLLEN: Candy, it was a very rough week, there’s no sugar- coating that.

CROWLEY: And how rough week? I want you to take a look at the graphic that we have, and we’re now looking at blue Democrat, red Republican, and it’s pre-election where you all held seats. Now I want to switch it over and see how it looks now. There we go. OK, so basically the Midwest and the interior West just caved on you. What happened?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we saw convergence of a lot of events that created a perfect storm against the Democrats. You started with a difficult political playing field, which we said from the beginning posed a challenge. We had 84 House Democrats in congressional districts that George Bush had carried in the 2004 election, which was kind of a flat political year, not a big wind to anybody’s back.

Only about five Democrats in congressional districts that John Kerry carried, which is why we always said we had a tough, tough playing field. You add to that a very difficult economy, 9.5 percent employment, and then you sprinkled into that tens of millions of dollars of largely secret special interest money and you get a Category 3 political hurricane.

It was tough. I mean, the only solace I can take from these elections is that the feedback we’ve gotten from our members from a campaign perspective, we gave them all the support and resources that they could possible have, but it was just — yet they couldn’t overcome what was clearly a big wave.

CROWLEY: But, you know, nowhere in here nor have I heard from the president that you see anything wrong in the policy that was passed. You think this was all kind of outside forces coming to bear that somehow fooled the American people into voting Republican.

I just looked at the suburban vote for Democrats, which dropped 11 percent in this election from the last one. You’re now down to a 2 percent edge in the suburbs. You can’t win a lot without the suburbs.

CROWLEY: So, you know, did you — did you consider at all that there is something that went too far and that the American people are pushing back?

VAN HOLLEN: Candy, I don’t think anyone thinks that the American people were fooled. I think what the American people were saying loud and clear is that the pace of the economic recovery, the continued large rate of joblessness is just unacceptable. And it is unacceptable.

CROWLEY: Particularly having spent $800 billion to try to get it down there.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, let’s — but the facts are the facts. I mean, there are 3 million more Americans employed today than there would have been without the economic recovery bill, so it’s not that that failed, but what it did fail to do was to meet expectations, which was to come back on all cylinders.

And what people have said and we said all during the campaign, you know, it’s tough to say it could have been worse, and that is a tough argument to make, and people were voting in the here and now, understandably not satisfied, impatient with the pace of recovery. That was what the referendum was all about.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: But just to make sure, you don’t think that the Democrats went too far and spent too much money on the stimulus or too much money on the TARP or went after the wrong thing and should have been focused on jobs for a year rather than health care. You think everything you did was good, that this was just something else or a confluence of events that made you lose this many seats?

VAN HOLLEN: We were responding to an emergency. The emergency began on George Bush’s watch. Remember, it was George Bush and Secretary Paulson who initiated the bank rescue. Democrats joined with them to try and prevent a total meltdown. It was a terribly difficult vote. The economic recovery bill was absolutely essential to stabilize an economy that was in freefall.

It’s undeniable that things have improved from 700,000 Americans losing their jobs, the month the president was sworn in, to now, where just last month we saw more positive signs.

But again, 9.5 percent unemployment is unacceptable, and I think that the clear message is everybody work together to get the economy back in full gear. And I think the Republicans make a big mistake if they interpret this as a mandate to do more than that, to try and turn things back over to a lot of the special interests that ran the show in Washington when they were in control.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the current relationship between surviving Democrats and the White House, because I’ve heard a lot of rumblings among Democrats, particularly on the more liberal side of it, and they say, look, the president’s already talking about tweaking health care reform, that he might be open — the White House talking about tweaking health care reform.

He’s already signaled that he might give on tax cuts. And I’ve talked to liberals who have said, you know what, we need Nancy Pelosi as speaker to push back because the person we think that might undermine us is the president.

VAN HOLLEN: I don’t think so for a second. Let me just take health care reform. What the president has said is if there are adjustments that people think need to be made to improve the bill, we’ll do that. For example, there’s this provision regarding 1099 that’s gotten a lot of attention. It should not have been in there. In fact, in the House, we actually acted to take that out. We never got that change through the Senate. That kind of thing we should do. When it comes to taxes…

CROWLEY: But you don’t think the president’s going to sell back some of what you gained to moving toward the bill?

VAN HOLLEN: I think the president has been very clear when it comes to taxes, that adding $700 billion to the deficit in order to provide folks at the very top with a special tax break, when we know that that hasn’t created jobs, because it’s in place right now, that that’s not acceptable to him.

So I don’t see any sign of the president retreating from his principles, but I do see his willingness to reach out, and wherever reasonable and in the interests of moving the economy and jobs forward, he’s going to work with the Republicans, as are the Democrats.

CROWLEY: I want to read you something that one of your delegation — not delegation — one of your caucus members said about Speaker Nancy Pelosi becoming a now minority leader. This is Jason Altmire, who told our Dana Bash, “I don’t get the sense that Speaker Pelosi understands what happened on Tuesday. We lost middle America. The Democratic Party got crushed. I would rather have someone who understands middle America and someone who can relate to the districts we lost,” which, as we all know, are the conservative districts and — as we saw in that map.

Do you support Speaker Pelosi and can she be an effective spokesperson for the middle of the country?

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, and yes, she can. I mean, Nancy Pelosi has been fighting for middle-class America for the last 24 months. Together we’ve worked to rein in some of the special interests on Wall Street to give consumers a fighting chance. We’ve worked to make sure that patients get health care when they’ve been paying their premiums day in and day out and when they need it the most.

So the answer is yes. Look, on Tuesday this was a lot bigger than Nancy Pelosi. We lost over 607 state legislators. Nineteen state legislative bodies switched control from Democrats to Republicans. We lost a lot of governorships.

What this was all about, and understandably so, was a referendum on 9.5 percent unemployment and a feeling that we had not made enough progress. And people are right. We have not made enough progress and that’s why we need to fight to continue to get us out of this mess.

And, look, in some ways the good news is our Republican colleagues now have to share some of the responsibility for getting us out of the mess that their policies helped to create in the first place.

CROWLEY: There could be, sort of, co-blame.

I want to ask you quickly, Congressman Hoyer, Congressman Clyburn both going for that number two position in a smaller Democratic Party. Is that a test of ideology and who do you support?

VAN HOLLEN: I don’t think it’s a test of ideology. And we’re going to look for a way to make sure that both those members can stay in the Democratic leadership. They’re both…

CROWLEY: Like a deal, somehow, to get one of them to stand down?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I — they’re — they’re both going to be at the table, I’m absolutely convinced, in terms of helping provide guidance…

CROWLEY: And who do you like?

VAN HOLLEN: … guidance…

CROWLEY: I like both my members.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Who would you vote for?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I — they know who I’m supporting right now, but…

CROWLEY: Tell us.

VAN HOLLEN: No, but — but this is, sort of, internal politics and it’s not something you talk about on the air or announce a particular preference on the air, because it’s not a preference over one person’s leadership abilities over the other. These are very difficult decisions for the caucus. And I’m confident that the members of the caucus recognize that both gentlemen bring an enormous amount to the job, and we will work it out.

CROWLEY: OK. You’re no fun, but thanks very much.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, we appreciate your being with us.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be here.

CROWLEY: Next, a new face among the Republican ranks in the Senate, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

- END -

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